In the second game of his varsity career, Folsom High School’s sophomore quarterback dropped back to pass, scanned the field and decided the shallow crossing route, 4 or 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, was not open.
He scanned some more, moved out of the pocket, and eventually threw the ball out of bounds.
This did not appear to be the correct decision. So when Jake Browning got to the sideline, his co-coach, Troy Taylor, the former California Bears quarterback, wanted to know why Browning didn’t hit his No. 1 option in the progression. That was the shallow cross. Taylor thought it was open.
“He went into this really long description,” Taylor said. “He told me, ‘I thought the shallow cross was going to be open, but the umpire was in the way and I had to avoid him,’ and by the time he avoided him there was another defender waiting for him.”
Yeah, sure, kid.
“I knew what I saw on the sidelines,” Taylor said, “and I thought, ‘this kid’s full of crap.’ ”
Until later that night, when Taylor, as he always does, sat down to review the game film.
There was the shallow cross … and there was the umpire … and there was the defender.
“It was like when he was describing it,” Taylor said. “It was like he had a photographic memory. Every detail he explained was exactly how it occurred. I was kind of blown away, because it’s very, very hard to see the game that slowly.”
In the same breath, Taylor recalls hearing David Cutcliffe, Duke’s coach, tell a similar story about a quarterback he worked with as a youngster. His name was Eli Manning.
The game never did speed up for Browning, the University of Washington signee who recently produced perhaps the most statistically prolific high-school career on record.
He finished with 229 career touchdown passes – a national high-school record – in 46 games as Folsom’s starter. He threw for 91 touchdowns in 2014 – another national record – along with just seven interceptions in 524 attempts, and led Folsom to a 16-0 record and a CIF Division 1 state championship.
All told, in three seasons helming Folsom’s spread passing attack, Browning completed 1,191 of his 1,708 attempts — a 69.7 completion percentage — for 16,775 yards, the 229 touchdowns, and 40 interceptions. In his career, Folsom lost just two games, both to powerhouse De La Salle in the state semifinals in consecutive years.
Those numbers, along with what Taylor describes as uncommon poise and understanding of the game, led to several scholarship offers — including one from Alabama — and there likely would have been more had Browning not committed to Washington on March 31.
Browning, who has already enrolled at UW and will participate in spring practices, is unavailable for media interviews. But on the day he announced his commitment to the Huskies — simply, via Twitter, including a photo of him smiling alongside his 2-year-old sister – he said UW coach Chris Petersen and his staff were the primary reason for his decision.
Described as humble and caring by those who know him, Browning’s personality also seems to align with Petersen’s stated mission of recruiting players whose football abilities are accompanied by great character.
“What it came down to was, I liked the coaches and I liked a lot of the players,” Browning said on the day he committed, “and it seemed like a good environment where everyone’s trying to get better.”
Taylor, as well as Kris Richardson, who is Folsom’s other co-coach, independently described one of Browning’s most unique personality traits. That is: when he sits down in the coaches’ office to converse and tell jokes with men more than twice his age, he’s able to keep up.
That’s rare for a high schooler.
“He’s got a great sense of humor,” Richardson said. “Sometimes you’re hanging out with high school kids, and they don’t know how to interact — what’s appropriate, what’s funny. He got it. … If he were to come over and hang out on a Saturday, it’s just like having your buddy hanging out.”
Petersen had been on him for some time, aggressively recruiting Browning when he was coaching at Boise State. Browning was interested then, too — he attended a camp at Boise — which is why he said Petersen’s move to Washington in December of 2013 was “like combining the best of both worlds.”
The feeling was mutual.
“We really, really liked him from the start,” Petersen said, “and a lot of people really liked him.”
Browning signed a financial-aid agreement in September, graduated early from Folsom, and enrolled at UW in January for winter quarter. More importantly, he’ll be able to practice in the spring, which will surely inspire further debate about whether he can settle the Huskies’ uncertain quarterback position by winning the starting job as a true freshman.
That might be asking a lot, but he should at least have a chance. Cyler Miles, UW’s starter in 2014, returns next season as a fourth-year junior, and though he was mostly inconsistent as a sophomore, logic dictates that he leads the race heading into spring.
Miles is one of four former 4-star quarterback prospects on UW’s roster (Browning included), and that’s not counting Troy Williams, a 4-star recruit in the 2013 class who chose to transfer to a junior college following the 2014 season.
Due to current circumstances, expectations might be higher for Browning, the only member of UW’s 2015 recruiting class ranked in Scout.com’s national top 100. He’s not a cannon-armed freak athlete like, say, Jake Locker, but his mental capacity and dedication to the film room — one month into his UW career, he’s already spends countless hours there – make him at least a candidate to compete for the rare distinction of starting as a freshman.
Those who achieve that feat typically possess exceptional football intelligence.
“I think it’s clearly more mental than physical,” Brandon Huffman, Scout.com’s director of recruiting, wrote in an email. “(It’s) more about their ability to grasp an offense and read defenses than just their pure physical advantages. Some of the better quarterbacks in college football have been because of their brains as much as their arm (such as) Kellen Moore (or) A.J. McCarron, while more physically gifted quarterbacks have scuffled because they just can’t read defenses or pick up offenses, like Jeff Driskell (or) Tyrone Swoopes.”
Did you catch that first name? Kellen Moore?
He was Petersen’s record-setting quarterback at Boise State, the four-year starter from Prosser who threw 143 touchdown passes in his career and led BSU to a 50-3 record during that time.
Taylor has been comparing Browning to Moore for years, before Petersen even started recruiting him. He saw how level-headed and intelligent Browning was as a freshman, and it reminded him of the way Moore commanded Boise State’s offense.
“He has an uncanny feel for the game, and toughness and anticipation, all those things,” Taylor said. “Jake’s a little bit bigger than Kellen (6-foot-2, 205 pounds compared to 6-foot, 197), but at the time, he wasn’t.”
Especially not when Browning was 10 years old, which is when Taylor first met him. Along with Bobby Fresques, Taylor coaches local quarterbacks at The Passing Academy. He takes kids of all ages, but tends to avoid working with 10-year-olds, because the repetition and precision required of prospective quarterbacks in the early learning stages — “it’s not all fun and games; it’s hardly any fun and games, actually,” Taylor said — can be draining.
But Browning was different. Every time Taylor drilled him on a technique, Browning came back for his next lesson more polished.
“He would come back and he had worked on it a lot and mastered it,” Taylor said. “He was definitely unique in that way.”
He only got better. As a sophomore, Browning, the son of former Oregon State quarterback Ed Browning, beat out a senior for the starting quarterback job at Folsom. It was a controversial decision at the time, Taylor said, but Browning made him look better by throwing 10 touchdown passes in his first start, a 68-28 victory over Woodcreek.
From there, the pace was set.
“He is phenomenal. He might have the best football IQ for a quarterback coming out of high school I have ever been around,” one FBS recruiter said. “It reminds me a lot of Kellen Moore.”
Huffman doesn’t necessarily agree with the Moore comparison — think former Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr instead, he said — because “Moore was winning and setting records in smaller-school Washington, while Browning was shattering records at a much more high-profile program in a much more high-profile state. He’s also bigger than Moore and has a better arm.”
Which, in part, is why he might be the most important recruit of Petersen’s first two classes at Washington.
“When you watch Kellen Moore, he just distributed the ball and kept (Boise State’s) offense moving, and had the arm strength to take the shots downfield when you needed them,” said Richardson, who also believes Browning compares favorably to Moore. “The great ones do that.
“My deal was always if we can protect Jake and let him sit back there, he’ll beat anybody. Just let him do his thing.”